Thursday, 13 October 2016
Shortly after I moved to the area over a decade ago I began working my way through the many restaurants of Lavender Hill, Battersea Rise and Northcote Road. At that time I was optimistic I'd find at least one or two worth a repeat visit, either a Thai place whose fishcakes didn't look entirely like they'd been chipped out of the freezer, or perhaps an Indian whose chicken tikka masala didn't taste like it had been made in a factory in Luton a number of weeks previously.
After perhaps a dozen or so increasingly depressing dinners, I realised that was not going to happen. Aside from a vaguely interesting meal at a place called Cinnamon Cay (long since closed) whose USP was shipping in unusual bush meat from around the world (crocodile tastes a bit like a cross between tuna and chicken, FYI) this corner of London, despite each boasting a huge number of restaurants, is not a gourmet destination.
Admittedly, since those dark days, things have improved... slightly. Mien Tay (Vietnamese) is great if you avoid the generic Chinese dishes, ignore the haphazard service and don't mind eating in a sauna. Soif is a fantastic natural wine bar serving great food, and there's also Dip & Flip who have quite rightly decided the only thing that can improve a cheeseburger is to soak it in gravy. But other than that... pickings are slim. There's nowhere else out of the vast numbers of licensed establishments in the area that I'd recommend, and a good few I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy.
So all Bababoom really needed to do to stand out from its neighbours was to not be very crap. And to that end, with the bar set sufficiently low, I suppose what they've achieved could be judged as some kind of success. It's not awful. Certainly not awful were these whitebait, sprinkled with dukkah, which had no bitterness and no hint of grease.
Praiseworthy also is their house flatbread, moist and bouncy, with some lovely bubbles of crunchy char where it's caught in the oven. Unfortunately the hummus starter it arrived with was far less enjoyable, its seemingly entirely unseasoned flavour and weird ultra-smooth texture bringing to mind wall filler. Adding salt from the table helped, though.
Similar problems with seasoning plagued the mains. Beef adana could probably have been OK - not great, but OK - if they'd decided to risk a teeny bit of salt. I appreciate their concern for my blood pressure but on balance I'll take being able to taste my dinner over any long-term health benefits. The gently pickled veg and za'atar-spiced tomatoes were at least fresh and colourful, but still a bit wishy-washy.
Lamb shoulder was better, but still underwhelming. A step up from the usual high street kebab, sure, but not nearly enough to have me rushing back. The meat itself was a bit soggy and beige - I searched hopefully for some crunchy bits but didn't find any - although it was at least seasoned better than the beef so tasted of something.
"Smashed" aubergine needed more smoke from the grill and, yes, more seasoning. Cold aubergine treads a fine line between edible and phlegmy at the best of times, and I'm afraid here tipped just slightly uncomfortably over into the latter. Yes, it was colourful and all the ingredients were fresh, but someone needs to be tasting this stuff as well as just dressing it for presentation. It was curiously lifeless and flat.
Service was pleasant, better when offering to tailor a house lemonade to desired sweetness levels, less so when forgetting to fetch a beer ordered with it. And it's an attractive enough space, exposed brickwork and open kitchen in that style that appears to be everywhere these days. But the reality is, in common with so many of its neighbours, I just can't find enough about the place to justify the effort of going there, and barely a few days after my visit I find the experience is already fading into black and white. By the standards of the area, this is still arguably an improvement. But I'm afraid if Bababoom wanted to revolutionise Middle Eastern comfort food and be the Shawarma Bar of SW11, then, well, they've got a long way to go.
Not much chance of Bababoom getting in the app. But see where else is good.